Learning Related Vision Disorders

How Do Vision Problems Affect Learning?

Most people think that a child who has passed the annual school vision screening has “good vision” and can see the board and his textbooks clearly.

Unfortunately, this is a serious misconception because the traditional school eye exam doesn’t test aspects of vision required for reading. And sadly, the perception that everything’s okay can mask significant learning-related vision problems.

The key to understanding the relationship between vision and learning is realizing that vision is more than just being able to see the letters on the 20/20 line of a chart placed 20 feet away. Visual problems can be divided into two broad categories – visual efficiency and visual processing.

Read more about how Hidden Vision Problems and how they can block learning Here.

Visual Efficiency Problems

These kinds of sight problems interfere with a child’s ability to clearly and comfortably and take in information for sustained periods of time. Many of these problems don’t surface until the upper elementary grades or junior high, when children are required to cover significantly more reading material. Visual efficiency problems include nearsightedness, farsightedness, astigmatism, and problems with focusing, tracking and eye teaming. Nearsightedness is the condition most commonly detected by the traditional school vision screening. But nearsighted children tend to be some of the best readers, and the traditional screening doesn’t necessarily identify any of the other problems.

Visual Processing Problems These problems have to do with the child making sense of incoming visual information. They include difficulty with laterality, directionality, visual form perception, visual memory, and visual motor integration.
In contrast to visual efficiency disorders, many of which surface in the middle grades, visual processing problems tend to sabotage learning for children in the early grades even kindergartners. Children with visual processing problems may be difficult to teach because they fail to understand and grasp basic concepts and ideas.


A full evaluation by a professional who has the expertise to test for both visual efficiency and visual processing disorders is the only way to detect some vision problems. When one of these hidden problems does exist, treatment involving eyeglasses, vision therapy, or both can correct it. Glasses are generally effective for nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. They can also correct some types of focusing and eye teaming disorders. In fact, 85% to 90% of people with vision problems are treated with glasses.

However, the other 10% to 15% require vision therapy. This therapeutic approach involves a series of treatments that includes using special instruments and activities under close supervision.

The education and clinical training of optometrists stresses both eye health and eye function. This makes them uniquely qualified to detect and treat vision problems that interfere with school performance. It is important to understand that optometrists don’t specifically treat reading or learning problems. But along with extra help or tutoring from parents and teachers, an optometrist can correct the vision problems that may be blocking the possibility of learning.

Vision and Attention

Vision issues can affect a child’s ability to sustain attention during reading and close work. The signs of ADD/ADHD and vision problems overlap. Children with vision problems can show poor attention with classroom work and homework. Teachers and parents will often notice children taking frequent breaks, avoiding reading or becoming fidgety as their eyes fatigue.

Vision problems do not cause ADHD, but they can be mistaken for ADHD. Vision issues should be ruled out in children where a diagnosis of ADD/ADHD is being considered.

Vision issues such as farsightedness, eye-teaming problems, and focusing problems can affect a child’s ability to sustain attention during reading and desk work. Research has shown that children with convergence insufficiency are more likely to have a diagnosis of ADHD even when they don’t have ADHD. Results of the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial have shown that successful treatment of convergence insufficiency resulted in parents’ seeing improvements in attention during reading and homework.